Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dumb Helsinki cycle paths #7

The BBC has good report looking at how Copenhagen has become the best city in the world for cyclists. There a third of people use a bike for getting to work, school or university. A third!? That's amazing isn't it? Less pollution, less noise, less traffic for those folk who do need to drive, less congestion on public transport, more exercise meaning less weight for the medical system to carry. Everyone's a winner.

So in Copenhagen they are extending the cycle path network and widening the actual lanes. Here in Helsinki some people seem also to be excited about the cycle paths/pavement that forms part of my route to work. They have decided it can be used as over-flow car parking for the fat, lazy, selfish and anti-social, and as it happens daily as the same place and has done summer, it appears the relevant authorities don't give a shit either.

So it's nice that us cyclists and pedestrians of Helsinki now know our place. That would be dodging traffic in the road.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Finns and fixed gears

Finns are really good at fads. When something becomes fashionable you have to go all out - adopt everything; the whole culture around that trend. When I first moved here, it was in-line skates - but you had to skate with full pads -knees, elbows, wrists, helmet. If you're a 15 year old suburban boy, you can't just listen to a bit of hiphop, you have to go for the whole wigga ensemble, right down the a coloured bandanna in the back pocket of your ridiculously overpriced baggy jeans. I've often wondered it that would get you shot in South Central, but more likely just heartily laughed at. And pole walkers - they need (along with dubiously coloured shell suits) special pole walking shoes, which somehow are different to trainers in ways I can't work out besides colour. And this year it's fixie riders. I went past a guy on fixie (up hill obviously) the other day with cards in his wheels and drainpipe jeans. Is there a fixie kit you can buy somewhere that provides everything you need to look like a cliché? Perhaps they just all follow the fashion tips from the fixed gear blog - which is of course based in Helsinki. I shouldn't be snide - it's excellent that bikes are cool and people are out riding - plus if I hadn't seen the fixie boys and girls all around this summer - this:

wouldn't be as delightfully funny. Nuff respect to MC Spandex.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Helsinki International Air Show

A few images that I managed to snap today at the Helsinki International Air Show and Malmi airport. I don't have a telephoto lens so these were mainly taken at 55 mm and then 'zoomed in' on iPhoto. Click on them to see bigger images.

Finnish army NH-90 Transport Helicopter. A big meaty helo, but the pilot could make it dance.

The Finnish Air Force's "Midnight Hawks" fly by Malmi Airport control tower

The Midnight Hawks.

And again...

And again. The Midnight Hawks were great, but who ever picked their display music that was blasted over the P.A. should be shot - some truly godawful Nightwish.

Condensation streams off the top of a Finnish Air Force F-18 as it blast into a fast climb. The F18 pilot had far superior music taste with Green Day being played in the back ground. But then you could hardly hear it anyway over the delicious scream of the afterburners.

Finnish airforce F-18 - the whole neighbourhood knew it was in town! Large numbers of people had ear protectors on or ear plugs in. I didn't think to bring any, but having grown up under an RAF and USAF low level flight training path, my ears are pretty used to it.

Not what you normally see over Helsinki: an F18 deploys chaff (update: note from the comments: this should probably be flares not chaff) and rolls out.

A second chaff deployment. Malmi must be becoming a really lousy neighbourhood if shoulder launched ground to air missiles are deemed likely! :-)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dan Hannan - always backing a winner.

Americans should listen to Tory MEP Daniel Hannan because he clearly isn't a tit who has no idea of what he's talking about. Oh hang on...

Sea kayaking Mallorca

A few more pictures from Mallorca, this time from sea level but still featuring the imposing 300 mtr high north face of the Caval Bernat Ridge. I would be fascinated to hear if it has been climbed from the sea. I don't know enough Spanish to try googling this though.

We hired kayaks from Atemrausch in the lovely village resort of Cala Sant Vicenç. Atemrausch is a small company recently started by Caroline and Stephan that organises various outdoor activities and hires outdoor sports equipment.

Caroline guided us on our trip showing us some local points of interest and chatting generally about island life.

The hour and half trip cost €22 each which struck me as ridiculously good value considering we both got a kayak and guide in the form of Caroline for that. So if you are holidaying in Mallorca and want to try something different, go and visit them or check out their website if you are interested in kayaking, diving, snorkelling or just hiring a bike. They can organise kayak trips for you whether you are an absolute beginner or have some paddling experience. Caroline even took photos of us whilst we paddled and the email with them attached was waiting when we go home. It was a great touch - I wish them all the best in making a go of their business, especially in a year when tourism is down on the island due to the economy.

Caroline told me she had the day previously whilst out leading a trip bumped into the the German mega-star climber and adventurer Kurt Albert who was kayaking around Mallorca for his holiday.

This struck me as superb idea, and will be added to the long list of other improbable things I must try to do one day.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Torque nut testing

I went out climbing at Kauhala the other night with Diana. Climbing with D is great because it's possible she actually chunters on more than me when nervous and trying hard and, indeed, even when not. So that's saying something. And being Californian it of course comes out as a stream of consciousness in a Hunter S. Thompson-esque way. One moment she is berating the utter inadequacies of the American healthcare system as she has seen it first hand, then it is the superb "hmmm... I seem to be having nebulous commitment issues..." whilst sketching on incredibly thin holds some way above the bolt. I normally can't get much more existential than "oh... fuckerty fuck fuck".

No nebulous commitment issues now. D on Kaikenalku, 6a.

After some sport routes I knew I had to do something where I could try out the new Torque Nuts, so in the gathering gloom I donned a headtorch and set off up Don't Layback Crack.

Torque nuts ago-go

Some years ago this little route scalped Jody, trapping his foot for some time, leading to much panic and an eventual leader fall. I fared little better this time, and found out as I pulled over the top it had, amongst various other scratches and scrapes, bitten a chunk out of the inside of my right index finger on one of the jams which still hurts now, and the one of those pretty new torque nuts that I hadn't placed whilst climbing is now blotched with blood. I hope the UKC readers know I doing this for them! :-)

Britain is crap/great

Britain is crap because it has the Daily Mail and people who will pay for it. Britain is great because it has Ben Goldacre on national prime time radio:

And the blog he mentions, The Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project, really does exists. So that's two reason for Britain being great against one for crap, so great beats crap on points. Hurrah!

Will unusual birds come home to roost?

According to YLE, the Finnish security police SUPO (Finland's only real intelligence agency and something of mix between MI5 and Special Branch in the UK context) has started following developments in Afghanistan for possible spin off effects on Finland.

Which leads to the rather bloody obvious question: what? They weren't before?!?!

The timing of this revelation may be totally coincidental, but it's hard not to wonder whether this has been sparked by the political ruckus that followed the comments of a friend of mine (and indeed the original co-founder of this blog), Charly, who suggested in op-ed piece in Helsingin Sanomat that Finland was now part of a war in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ghosts in the machine

I was for various reasons (one of which was this brilliant piece of radio from Radiolab) googling a friend who died a few years ago. He's still there, in google, but he's fading. Other people have his name now and they are doing things that Google notes. Vesa is, being dead, at a distinct disadvantage in the rankings because despite doing lots of things noteworthy in his unfortunately too brief life - they are now all in the past. He never got chance to start a Facebook page, so someone else with his name has got that one. He went too early to see the explosion in the popularity of blogging. But his name is still there - it's not gone completely, a ghost in the machine, and some of us still remember him as well in our more organic memories.

The picture above is of me, but it was taken by Vesa - back when photos were on film and had to be scanned. He made the webpage for the climbing club and for some reason I ended up on the front page; I wasn't really even a member, I just went out climbing with them because they were nice guys. I had completely forgotten about it, and it was googling his name that led me to it, the entry tunnel to a now defunct website, but which lives on lurking forgotten on some server. I too am also a ghost in the machine.

Vesa - you are getting a climb named in your honour mate! It's not a very good one, but hey - neither of us were ever really very good climbers were we? ;-) Rest easy now.

Michael Yon in Afghanistan

Michael Yon has been doing a series of excellent dispatches showing life for the British Army in southern Afghanistan. It is a good insight into the daily reality for the Brits and Gurkhas out there, and show the kind of terrain, physical and social, they are operating in. All the pieces are interesting and his photos great, so just go to his website and have a look.

His article on the Lithuanian military cooperation with Japanese development aid was particularly interesting if you are interested in crisis management and reconstruction, but I did note the now classic handwear being sported by one Lithuanian soldier in this photo!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

DMM Torque Nuts

I've just received some of the new DMM Torque Nuts to test for UK Climbing. I will be using them for the first time this evening, but you have to admit - regardless of how they perform, they're rather pretty aren't they? (click the photos for high res versions)

And you'll all be pleased to know they still make reassuringly traditional clanking noises when carried as a bunch.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dumb Helsinki cycle paths #6

First day back at work. First day cycling into Helsinki in a month. First idiot of the autumn who thinks that the pavement/cycle path makes a good place to park his truck whilst he pops into the café next door for a quick donut and coffee.

As I tried to inch round the truck on the 15 cms or so of the pavement that he hadn't selfishly and dangerously parked on, my back wheel slipped off the kerb and I went down, falling into the road. This was the result.

So to the driver of truck registration number "SIO 655" - thanks a lot. You are a thoughtless and anti-social knobber of the highest order.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mallorca #1: Serra del Caval Bernat

Mallorca for me has always brought to mind drunk, loud British people in bars. Of course this is great fun when you are one of the drunk, loud, English people (or indeed drunk and loud but of some other nationality), but it is less attractive when you're not. Hence, Mallorca had never really made it on to my list of potential holiday destinations. But for reasons of family harmony I found myself heading that way last week.

Sunrise over Cap Formentor (click on any photo for bigger version)

In actual fact the island is beautiful with some stunning mountains across its entire northern half. By the power of Google I quickly discovered that there appeared to be plenty of climbing possibilities and further research also turned up what looked like a rather remarkable scramble - the Caval Bernat Ridge above Port de Pollença on the east of the island. Being there in August, it soon became apparent that dealing with the heat would be the crux, so a rather un-holidayesque 5 am alarm call was set and we were parked and walking by 6 am.

The rising traverse to the first high point

The ridge rises straight from the sea on its north side, and most start at the eastern end - approaching down the valley to its south. A beach marks the end of this valley and from there you take a rising traverse up to the first high point on the ridge. We had been told stories about a tricky step and took a rope as a precaution, but this stayed packed at the bottom of my bag, and we found ourselves on the ridge after some fun but not very tricky scrambling. Looking down the vertical north side of the ridge, the exposure is sickening as it falls at the highest point 350 metres down to the waves. In some points the peaks on the ridge actually overhang the north face - and I couldn't help thinking it would be a very safe base jump - except the obvious problem of there being nothing but water to land on.

Starting along the ridge proper

The south side of the ridge isn't too exposed...

The north side is.

Despite the rapidly building heat after sunrise, a strong breeze made things ok on the exposed crest. The limestone of the ridge is amazingly rough and spiky - superbly grippy on our hiking shoes but a bit rough on your hands. Fingerless leather gloves wouldn't be a bad idea at all (although avoid black ones if you don't want to look like a terrorist/counter-terrorism operative). We took a quite exposed direct line to the highest point on the first half of the ridge (we were told it looks like an eagle with spread wings from Port de Pollenca - so this would be the eagle's head). This was probably as close to needing a rope as we came - but like most of the other summits along the crest, an easier way could be contrived by taking a less direct line.

The eagle's head

A col marks the halfway point along the ridge and allows and easy descent down into the valley. We bailed at this point as even at 10 am it was getting ridiculously hot when out of the breeze and despite having brought three litres of water I was down to my last half litre plus, we suspected, we would soon be running out baby sitting credits with granny and grandad. There looks to be some fine scrambling on the peak immediately after the col, but after that the ridge appears to eases off a little with less steep up and downs, although still with the remarkable exposure on the north side.

Looking back from the halfway col

So in retrospect, early August might not be the optimum time for doing the route, especially for pasty and un-acclimatised-to-the-heat-and-sun northerners. Nevertheless, it still beats hanging with my tattooed, lager-lout fellow countrymen in Magaluf.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Random bike photos

Some random bike photos I've taken through the the spring and summer. Enjoy.

Hip bike

Outside of a coffee shop in Santa Monica, CA - well of course.

Old bike

Seen in a museum in Sweden - this wheel is beautifully made of wood.

Sensible bike

A circular reflector seen on a bike in Uppsala, Sweden. I've not seen this clever design for the dingy north before.

Pink bike

This is my friend's ridiculously girly bike - "Sweet Power" indeed. In fact those are her less pink feet as well.

Dead bike

Do old bikes go to heaven?